The Frankish War-Machine of Charles Martel
By Patrick S. Baker
Saber and Scroll, Vol. 2: Iss. 2 (2013)
Abstract: The Franks had a war-machine that was a highly effective and mobile under the leadership of Charles Martel. It fought from the North Sea in the north to the Mediterranean Sea in the south and from Aquitaine in the west to Bavaria in the east. The Franks also fought and won against enemies as diverse as the pagan seafaring Frisians to the heavy cavalry of the Muslim Moors of Al-Andalus.
Introduction: In 715, Charles Martel had been passed over to inherit his father’s position as Mayor of the Palace and Prince (leader) of the Franks in favor of his infant nephews and had also been imprisoned by his stepmother, Plectrude (Plectrudis). However, some time in 716 Charles managed to escape. By then Charles’ Austrasian (Eastern Franks) Carolingian clan, whose homeland included what is now Northern France to the Somme and most of the Benelux countries, was facing a two front war. To the west were the rival Neustrian (New or Western) Franks, whose lands ran from the River Loire through the Seine Valley to the River Somme, under the leadership of their Mayor of the Palace, Ragamfred; to the north, allied with Ragamfred were the pagan Frisians. The two allies managed a coordinated assault on the Carolingians. Charles moved to stop the Frisian invasion, but was soundly defeated by the pagans: “. . . he suffered a great loss of followers, but, taking to flight, he escaped.” This was the first battle Charles is said to have fought in and his only recorded defeat.
While Charles appeared to be down, he was certainly not out. The Frisians and Neustrians met at the Rhine River and marched on the city of Cologne, where they forced Plectrude to hand over the family treasure. While the Neustrians were returning west, Charles organized an ambush at Ambleve near Malmedy in present day Belgium and inflicted a serious defeat on them, recapturing at least some of the treasure.
From the victory at Ambleve, Charles went on to defeat Ragamfred again the next year at Vinchy (or Vincy). He also settled affairs with his father’s widow, including seizing from her the remainder of his father’s treasure. Then in 718 Charles chased an army of Aquitainians, allied to Ragamfred, back over the River Loire. Later that same year he marched east of the River Weser and defeated the West Saxons.